Friday, October 23, 2020

Spain extradites former bank CEO sentenced in Iran for corruption

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Spain has extradited a fugitive former Iranian executive implicated in a large financial corruption case, in what Iran’s judiciary says is the first such extradition from Europe.

Alireza Heydar Abadipour, the former CEO of Sarmayeh Bank, touched down at Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran, where media and police officials were waiting for his arrival.

Heydar Abadipour was arrested in Spain in June 2019 after Iranian police requested Interpol to issue a “red notice” – an electronic “wanted” poster – for his arrest.

He had been tried in absentia and received a 12-year prison sentence.

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He is implicated in a large fraud and embezzlement case centred on Sarmayeh Bank and the Teachers Investment Fund. The case involves hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to the judiciary, Heydar Abadipour is wanted for “disrupting the country’s financial system” through corruption and acquisition of illegitimate property.

Heydar Abadipour could not be immediately reached for comment.

Hadi Shirzad, commander-in-chief of Iranian Interpol, said on Wednesday that the organisation used Interpol databases and coordinated with local and foreign authorities to issue the red notice, which led to him being tracked and located.

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“Based on the issued red notice and coordination with the other country’s police and diplomatic authorities, the suspect was apprehended,” Shirzad said.

The first step

The judiciary said on its website that the extradition is the first important step in fulfilling an order issued by the head of the institution, Ebrahim Raisi, earlier this year to bring a handful of fugitive former executives back to Iran.

“Undoubtedly, the efforts of the judicial system and other organisations to return Heydar Abadipour will sound the alarms for other looters of public funds who have escaped abroad and sought harbour in western countries,” the statement said.

The judiciary promised to also go after other financial fugitives.

Iran has seen several significant fraud and embezzlement cases in the past 10 years. Some of the central figures have managed to escape the country.

Among the most prominent of them is Mahmoud Reza Khavari, a former CEO of state-run Bank Melli, the country’s largest lender.

Khavari, a dual Canadian citizen, fled Iran to Canada in 2010. He is a key figure in an embezzlement case involving an estimated $2.6bn at the time, believed to be the largest such case in Iranian history.

Khavari was sentenced in absentia to 30 years in prison by a Tehran court in 2017. Canada, which does not have an extradition agreement with Iran and has cut diplomatic relations with the country, has refused to extradite him.

Earlier this month, the United States slapped more sanctions on Iran’s financial sector, going after 18 lenders – including Sarmayeh Bank – in an effort to further choke off Iranian revenues as Washington ramps up pressure on Tehran, just weeks before the US presidential elections.

The move freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them, while extending secondary sanctions to those who do business with them. This means foreign banks risk losing access to the US market and financial system.

The US Treasury Department said in a statement the prohibitions did not apply to transactions to sell agricultural commodities, food, medicine or medical devices to Iran, saying it understood the need for humanitarian goods.

However, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the US of trying to curtail Iran’s ability to pay for basic necessities during the coronavirus pandemic.

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